Pay Nothing For PC Help (Part 2)

1/20/2013 9:06:56 AM

Help Is At Hand

Other versions of Windows lack these troubleshooting tools but all versions have a broader Help system that can prove useful in many circumstances. General help is accessible via the Help and support option on the Start menu but pressing the F1 key when any application or window is open will usually display context specific information. Try it when the Control Panel window is in view to sec information on its various features, for example.

The Help system for Windows and its applications can be searched or its contents browsed by subject. Click the Index or Browse Help button on the Help window's toolbar for this. Windows Help mixes general guidance for a range of tasks with specific advice on various performance issues but it is not much use for specific hardware or software problems. So while it does explain how to create and send an email message, for example, it doesn't explain the reasons a message might not be successfully delivered.

Information Is Everything

If a problem can't be fixed using Windows' built-in tools, then it is time to look outwards but there is some preparation to do first. The more information there is about the problem, the easier it will be to get help with it, so make a note of the make, model and version number of the hardware or software in question. This can usually be found on the packaging or, in the case of software, from About on the Help menu or options on one of the other menus. Hardware driver versions can also be found by double-clicking the appropriate entry in Device Manager and selecting the Driver tab on its Properties window.

Click on the Device Manager and window opens up.

Click on the Device Manager and window opens up.

Windows error messages often have a Details button that contains additional information about the problem, and this text can be copied and pasted into a Microsoft Word or Notepad document. Otherwise, a screenshot of the dialogue box or error message in question is a quick way to record its contents. Press the Print Screen (PrtScn) key to copy the Windows Desktop and its contents to the Windows Clipboard, then paste the image into Paint or a similar application using the keyboard shortcut Control (Ctrl) and V.

The Search Starts Here

Armed with the above information, contacting the relevant manufacturer is usually the best starting point when trying to solve a hardware or software problem. New hardware and software should come with a free technical support service or warranty but this might only be available for a certain length of time after the original purchase. This can usually be established over the phone, or checked online by supplying a serial number or other identifying piece of information for the product. The support status of Microsoft products can be checked at 6863, for example. Otherwise, visit the relevant manufacturer's Wcbsitc to see what support options are available. Email or online chat support may be available at no cost and this could be enough to solve the problem.

Do not give in and pay for technical support just yet. The next free option is a web search for a solution. This sounds obvious but your query needs to be carefully crafted. For example, searching for `Word won't open file' or 'Photoshop Elements crash' will probably not turn up anything useful, whereas `Word 2003 gives incompatible file format error with DOCX file' or 'Photoshop Elements failed to load library twapi.dll error' will be of more help.

The key is to include specific information about the hardware or software in question, and the problem or error it exhibits (which has already been gathered, of course). Including any error codes will narrow the search further still, but be prepared to pore over a fair few web pages in search of a practical solution. Be sure to search the help or support pages of the appropriate manufacturer, too. This will be far more focused than a broad internet search and is more likely to turn up informed and accurate advice for a particular user. Microsoft's support pages ( are particularly useful in this regard, as are Apple's (

Free Support From Forums

Other users can be another useful technical support resource, particularly when it comes to forums. Most manufacturers offer user forums of their own for this purpose but third-party forums maintained by other users also exist. Forums are a rich source of technical support, since it is almost certain that someone has already posted about a particular problem and a solution found. That is why it is also important to perform some due diligence, searching a forum before posting a question, since other contributors will not take kindly to new users asking about problems that are both well-known and long since fixed.

Asking a third party for help does not have to involve the anonymity of the internet, of course. Most people know (or know of) a computer enthusiast, so do not be bashful about asking for a favour. Such a good turn can even be handled remotely, as our workshop on using Cross loop explains on page 6o and asking friends to help need not cost a penny.

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